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Artificial Life

Spring 2017, Vol. 23, No. 2, Pages 124-141.
(doi: 10.1162/ARTL_a_00227)
© 2017 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Abstraction, Sensory-Motor Coordination, and the Reality Gap in Evolutionary Robotics
Article PDF (2.06 MB)

One of the major challenges of evolutionary robotics is to transfer robot controllers evolved in simulation to robots in the real world. In this article, we investigate abstraction of the sensory inputs and motor actions as a tool to tackle this problem. Abstraction in robots is simply the use of preprocessed sensory inputs and low-level closed-loop control systems that execute higher-level motor commands. To demonstrate the impact abstraction could have, we evolved two controllers with different levels of abstraction to solve a task of forming an asymmetric triangle with a homogeneous swarm of micro air vehicles. The results show that although both controllers can effectively complete the task in simulation, the controller with the lower level of abstraction is not effective on the real vehicle, due to the reality gap. The controller with the higher level of abstraction is, however, effective both in simulation and in reality, suggesting that abstraction can be a useful tool in making evolved behavior robust to the reality gap. Additionally, abstraction aided in reducing the computational complexity of the simulation environment, speeding up the optimization process. Preeminently, we show that the optimized behavior exploits the environment (in this case the identical behavior of the other robots) and performs input shaping to allow the vehicles to fly into and maintain the required formation, demonstrating clear sensory-motor coordination. This shows that the power of the genetic optimization to find complex correlations is not necessarily lost through abstraction as some have suggested.